I just received an email from Professor Buehler: “Thanks for the hospitality; I really enjoyed my stay and learned a lot”. – Ralph Buehler.
It has been two weeks already since we waved goodbye to Professor Ralph Buehler, who spoke at the AGM of Citizens for Safe Cycling. We purposely planned the AGM in the Indian Summer, as we like to show off our city as a great cycling destination. If we wait longer, the city starts to look dreary and the impressions that our speakers take back are not all that great.
So October it was. Ralph arrived on Tuesday and Alex took him for a spin that same afternoon, so he would have a bit of an impression of the city before his talk that night. At the AGM of Citizens for Safe Cycling that evening, he talked about the need for different bike facilities and programs to encourage cycling for traffic and health reasons. He showed a clear correlation between a population that walks and cycles and obesity. The biggest gasp was uttered, when he mentioned green waves for cyclists in some European municipalities. It was encouraging to see that he brought many North American examples too.
Before Ralph took the microphone though, Olivia Chow received a warm welcome from the audience for talking about the Safe Trucks initiative. In her presentation she asked for support for demanding government action to include side guards on trucks to prevent cylclists from falling underneath a truck.
Ottawa Bike initiatives
We briefed Ralph in advance by explaining the many initiatives in Ottawa (Bike lanes, Bixi bikes, Right Bike, Bike and ped bridges, Park + Bike parking, bike box, the cross town corridor, Bike Sundays, Kids bike ride, the Plaid Ride, Velo Vogue Fashion show, OC Transpo bike racks and so on). We actually asked him to update his Powerpoint with a few pics from Ottawa to resonate better with our audience. We also explained that our audience is already quite educated on active transportation, city planning and bike initiatives.
We had asked Professor Buehler to stay with us in Nepean (Fisher Heights) for a few days, so could take him to several other meetings too. This was easily done by bike as nothing was further than about 8-10 km. So on Wednesday, we rode across the Farm, passed Dow’s Lake, through Commissioners Park and through 5th Ave to the Canal and north towards City Hall. City staff then cycled with him along Laurier, the Bike Box, the lane towards Gatineau, and back over Alexandra Bridge to the locks and Cork town bridge. Professor Buehler gave a brown bag presentation at City Hall for about 60 city staff, comparing the US and Germany (Ralph is German, but lives in Alexandria and teaches at Virginia Tech). He pointed out how the two countries use tax monies for highway building and how much is subsidised from the general tax coffers vs road tax in both countries. He does most of the work himself, ploughing through budgets and traffic stats.
Top brass is listening
It was good to see the top brass of the City being there, including John Moser and Nancy Schepers. It is always a good sign if they follow the presentation rather than checking their Blackberries. In the afternoon, staff of the German Embassy, which paid for his flight to Ottawa, took him through Sandy Hill and Vanier on a bike. In the evening we had hot chocolate and tea at the Raw Sugar Café before we cycled to Hintonburg to check out the area and to have a bite. At a certain point Jane Porter of Hub Ottawa tagged along for a bit, listening to me explaining some urban renewal projects in the area.
Carleton University and NCC
On Thursday, Buehler spent most of the day at the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University at their environmental day. He also dropped by at the NCC, where he gave a presentation once again. In the evening, we cycled from Old Ottawa South (dinner at Namasté), across Brewer Park and Carleton U and through the Farm back home.
I spent quite some time with Ralph and one of the things I noticed was that he was often guessing where Ottawa or Canada would be in terms of certain amounts, ratios, modal shares etc. when showing a slide on Portland, Vancouver, Montreal or Minneapolis stats. Usually he guessed fairly favourable for Ottawa, but he did mention that he didn’t always find the right data for Ottawa/Canada. It became obvious to me though, that if you want to have a city in the speakers’ Powerpoints, you have to make sure the data are available to them. I hear you saying: Duh! But the fact that he had to guess here and there shows it is not as easy to get to data as we think. Under the guidance of councillor Tierney though, this is changing now.
Two way street
Promoting our city doesn’t always mean that we have to go out and advertise in the magazines or bus shelters in other cities. It is often just as effective to give other influentials the right material so they can take it under their arm and talk about our great cycling city. Once the word gets out, you’ll get the delegations in. Having Professor Ralph Buehler in town for four days was a great initiative: he could experience cycling in the city, instead of reading about it, he could talk to many people and he knows where to get his data now. I think it is great that he wrote he learned a lot. In turn, we were able to establish a great relationship with Ralph, listen to his latest research and feel encouraged that we are on the right track. What a great cooperation between Citizens for Safe Cycling, the German embassy, the city of Ottawa, Carleton U and the NCC to get the bicycle word out about Ottawa.
The Citizens for Safe Cycling AGM attracted about 130 people (including the people of the 11 organisations that run the tables). No less than four City councillors dropped by. Olivia Chow was very impressed with the turn out and thought “there was a great atmosphere“. Professor Buehler thought it was “a well run evening and AGM” (and this from a German!) What more can you wish for as a cycling organisation? In the words of Catherine Henry of Olivia Chow’s office: “Once again, you organized a terrific event and are doing a great job of advocating for cycling in Ottawa.”
O, by the way, professor Buehler took the bus to the airport: 118 from Baseline to Billings Bridge and then the 97 to the airport. Promoting sustainable transportation, he puts his money where his mouth is.